To describe a voyage across the North Atlantic, its dangers, and what it means in flesh and blood to the man on the bridge, will necessitate going into details which it is impossible for the general traveling public to know about unless told by one behind the scenes.
Let us take an ordinary summer voyage, say in the month of June or July, from Liverpool or Southampton. Let the ship be one of the flyers or one of the fast intermediate boats, conditions being about the same in both. After leaving port, the vessel's course takes her close to the land and its outlying dangers, through waters crowded with shipping. The master is not required to be on the bridge after his vessel is clear of harbor, therefore she is handed over to the officer of the watch. Except when rounding headlands, approaching harbor, or during fog, the master rarely mounts the bridge at all; everything is left in charge of the officer of the watch. There is no risk in this if the officer has had a sufficient amount of sleep. But does the officer in charge always get sufficient sleep to act quickly for the benefit and safety of those whose lives are in his keeping?
I answer, emphatically, "No." At times he is no more fit to be left in charge than is a lunatic; and a moment's delay, a wrong order, or the slightest let-up in his vigilance, is often all that is required to send both the liner and its freight of between three and four thousand souls to the bottom. Take, for example, a liner leaving Liverpool for New York. Before the saloon passengers embark, the vessel must be brought from dock to the embarking-stage. The usual time for arriving at the stage is between 2.30 and 3 p. M. Now, during the periods of high water, because of the tidal docks, it is impossible for a ship to leave dock at high tide and arrive at the stage at her appointed time. Our vessel, if her appointed time coincides with high tide, must therefore leave dock on the previous morning tide, say between 2 and 3 A.M. Here is where the hardship comes in. On the day of leaving dock, officers must be aboard their ship to receive mails, baggage, and specie, and also to get her ready for sea. They will probably leave for home about 5 p. M., but they must be aboard again the same night somewhere about 11 p. M., to bring the ship from her dock through the tidal basin to her anchorage in the river. Anchor-watches will then have to be kept. At 7 o'clock the crew 'join up,' and from then until it is time to embark steerage passengers by tender, the officers will be busy attending to their various duties. About 2 p. M. the anchor will be hove up and the liner brought alongside the embarking-stage. At the stage the officers must stand at the gangways until all passengers are aboard and the gangways landed.